Fly into Windhoek, Namibia from Johannesburg, South Africa late at night, and you’ll wonder if the plane has taken a wrong turn. There are no lights below save a few flickers that might be figments of your imagination.

Where is the big, bustling capital city of Windhoek? Will the plane literally land in the middle of the dark desert and fly away?

Luckily, after arrival, you’ll find that Windhoek is in fact a real city—it’s just thirty minutes away from its airport. But the sense of desolation—of vast emptiness—that you first experienced flying in will stay with you.

Namibia is an Arkansas-sized country that is home to approximately 3 million people, most of which live in the capital city or along the Atlantic coast, where fishing is a major industry. But the rest of the country, in the expanses of ancient desert and savannah in between, belongs to the animals.

Many of the creatures that live here have adapted to the arid, dry climate and landscape. From May to November, also known as the ‘dry season,’ rainfall is extremely limited. The animals rely on the ‘wet season,’ from December to April, for nourishment. But the past few wet seasons have not brought the rain that is needed, and the country’s drought is expected to intensify with the effects of climate change.

Will the animals here be able to adapt and survive? How can we help them? These are questions that we’ve come to explore with Virginia Tech graduate student David Millican, a Ph.D. student in the department of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, and a rising star in the field of bird conservation.

He is a fellow in the university’s Interfaces of Global Change program, and a crucial member of the new Global Change Center housed in the Fralin Life Science Institute. David’s Virginia Tech advisor is Dr. Jeff Walters, a renowned bird biologist who specializes in studying cavity-dwelling bird species.

As part of the Walters lab, David is researching cavity-dwelling species that live here in Namibia. Follow along as we head out into the field with him.